First and foremost, I hope Yair Lapid is Prime Minister of Israel one day. Mr. Lapid possesses a tremendous amount of wisdom, intelligence, and leadership; his ascent within Israeli politics is a good thing for Israel and Jews everywhere. That being said, the text of his speech in Berlin, “A fatal blind spot for sheer evil,” aimed at highlighting the lessons of the Holocaust fails to address those lessons in an accurate manner. Linking the extermination of millions to the justification for fighting Hamas is a stretch of epic proportions.
The foundation of evil that emboldened people like Eichmann and Himmler to execute their maniacal plans, as well as the murder of six million Jews, can’t be correlated directly to justifying the bombing of civilian centers of Gaza. To link the planned extermination of millions of innocent people with the political justification of targeting terrorists hiding amidst schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings is not only a stretch of logic, but also a dangerous foray into the justification of further bombings. If Hamas continues to launch rockets from now until December, would Mr. Lapid justify 20,000 civilian deaths? Would this honor the memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust? Blowing up all of Gaza to root out terrorists is not what I think of after reading Night by Elie Wiesel.
The first element of the speech, the issue of why Holocaust victims didn’t fight back, fails to address the reality of how genocides are orchestrated. Mr. Lapid’s words don’t take into account that Jews weren’t allowed to consume liquids or eat meals before or during the train rides to certain death. The Jews in cattle cars (I remember seeing an actual rail car at Yad Vashem) destined to Auschwitz and other locations were deprived of food and water for days. Before this, they were in hiding often times, or resigned to the fact that an SS group of soldiers just forced them at gunpoint to enter a van or train in order to get to an undisclosed location. Why didn’t they fight back? Imagine the feeling at the end of Yom Kippur, not eating, and multiply that by days and add immense fear and depression, along with the knowledge that death is around the corner for your loved ones. Furthermore, the following description of the transportions from the U.S. Holocaust Museum sheds light into exactly why Mr. Lapid’s speech shouldn’t be used for political purposes:
German railroad officials used both freight and passenger cars for the deportations. German authorities generally did not give the deportees food or water for the journey, even when they had to wait for days on railroad spurs for other trains to pass. Packed in sealed freight cars and suffering from overcrowding, they endured intense heat during the summer and freezing temperatures during the winter. Aside from a bucket, there was no sanitary facility. The stench of urine and excrement added to the humiliation and suffering of the deportees. Lacking food and water, many of the deportees died before the trains reached their destinations.
The Jews in Europe didn’t fight back because they were half starved to death, wallowing in human waste on the way to concentration camps, and already emotionally scarred before being led to death. To link such deprivations (an important element of mass slaughter) to the view that “they didn’t believe in the totality of evil” might be poetic in a speech, but doesn’t begin to touch upon the atrocity of transporting human being to their death.
Second, there is an unintended aspect of his speech that undermines the moral foundation of the war in Gaza. Mr. Lapid states, “According to their murderers, they weren’t people. They weren’t mothers or fathers, they weren’t somebody’s children.” Well, the phrase “human shields” comes to mind after reading this portion of the speech. Why? According to the BBC, the civilian death toll in the Gaza war reads, “Of those Palestinians, the status of 320 could not be identified, at least 1,402 were civilians, including 456 children and 237 women, the UN body reported.” I know good people who sleep very well at night viewing those 456 children as “human shields” who were the result of Hamas rockets.
It feels good to know that the 237 women and over 400 children weren’t killed by IDF bombing raids, but rather by Hamas intent upon using human shields. After all, “they” know very well the military response for launching rockets in residential areas, therefore the death of Palestinian civilians is Hamas’s responsibility, not Israel’s moral conundrum. If you read this and think such justification makes sense, then the phrase “human shield” has served its purpose. Just remember, though, that even the phrase “human shield” couple with “Hamas terrorist” won’t mitigate the potential nightmare of Hamas firing rockets past December or next February, and the inevitable civilian death toll possibly reaching 20,000 lives or more.
It would be interesting to hear, during Mr. Lapid’s speech, that “any number of civilian deaths is justified because Hamas represents the same threat posed during the Holocaust.” Of course, such a statement wouldn’t make sense, but the underlying justification of human shields, ironically, makes perfect sense to normally rationally minded people. The use of language is indeed utilized to justify the death of innocent people and nobody has ever stated civilians in Gaza aren’t innocent. As stated by Mr. Lapid, “It is hard to kill Rebecca Grunwald, a beautiful, fair-haired 18-year-old romantic, but Jew number 7762 A is easy to murder. Yet it remains the same person.” Very true, but it’s become dangerously easy to kill an unknown child in Gaza because of the actions of Hamas. The “human shield,” a child that is someone’s daughter or son, is blown up nonetheless because of the actions of Hamas. Using the Holocaust to assuage responsibility for civilian deaths is not something posterity might find logical.
Finally, the use of semantics in Mr. Lapid’s speech is grounds for the justification of practically any endeavor that combats “evil.” As Mr. Lapid states, “Let us not fool ourselves. Evil is here. It is around us. It seeks to hurt us… We must do everything to avoid suffering and the death of innocents but we stand in the right place from which to say to the entire world: We will not board the train again. We will protect ourselves from total evil.” So, essentially anything Israel does in the war against Hamas will prevent Jews from boarding trains to death. This is a dangerous sentiment for a number of reasons.
True, Hamas is an evil organization, I agree with this fact and I agree with Mr. Lapid on this point. But although Mr. Lapid is an honorable man (I do hope one day he is PM of Israel), his speech sadly uses the logic found in Nazi propaganda. As stated in Harvard University’s Analysis of Nazi propaganda, the Nazis were able to use flawed logic as a way to murder six million Jews:
Therefore, in our analysis of how the Nazis used propaganda to Define the Enemy, we find that they sought to elicit one or more of these biases – Clustering Illusion, Trait Ascription Bias, Superiority Bias, Self-Service Behavioral Confirmation
Bias, Semmelweis Reflex, and Bandwagon Effect / Herd Instinct – all aimed at separating the German people from “others”, who were portrayed as the inferior enemy, or agents thereof.
Let me state clearly that I am not saying Israel is any way associated with a Nazi mentality. Israel’s Supreme Court, for example, is a judicial body that consistently stands for human rights, morality, and just laws. However, Mr. Lapid’s speech uses several of the propaganda tools described in the Harvard University assessment of Nazi propaganda.
The logical fallacies in Mr. Lapid’s speech, like all propaganda, runs as the following: Jews were murdered after being transported on trains, such evil exists today, Hamas is evil, Hamas’s charter calls for genocide, therefore, Hamas won’t be able to run or hide, even within civilian centers because those civilian centers will be obliterated. Such logic is dangerous and linking the Holocaust to present day wars and politics is something unsuitable for a man of Mr. Lapid’s immense intellectual stature.